Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?


Today, after many months of being out on a grey and brown limb, I rejoined the sisterhood and did what many women do on a Saturday morning – left my husband in the care of the children and went to have my hair highlighted. Now I really am from blonde people. The last time I was at the hair salon was July last year, and since then I have been experimenting with how I feel allowing my natural honey dark blonde mouse to grow through, touched up as it is with wings of platinum grey. And the answer is, friends and feminists, not good. I have been feeling steadily more and more frumpish. It doesn’t help that it’s winter, that the world is coloured sludge and the coat which I wear on a daily basis is olive green. Not even my purple sparkly beanie and my various purple scarves have helped. I needed colour and I needed it badly.

Part of the problem is that although I’ve been back in Germany for nearly four years, I’ve struggled to find a hairdresser I like. Some can colour, some can cut and some can blow-dry but rare is the hair-beast who can do all three well. I was loyal to one salon in town that cut and coloured my hair beautifully but I always left with Shirley Temple curls that had been gelled and sprayed into a helmet. Then I moved to another salon, recommended by friends, where I had the world’s most spectacularly incompetent highlighting experience – as she folded the foils into my hair, they were falling out again, drifting to the floor in silver swathes. Last year I found a fabulous hairdresser, but she fell in love with an English lad and moved to London.

So, to quote Zia, I loined my girdles and gave a different local salon a go. Happy me! We have blondeness! And at an extremely reasonable price, with friendly atmosphere, decent coffee and not too much chit-chat (I needed to focus on Anna Karenina, the trashy magazines and at one point, even have a little nap – because going to the hairdresser’s is just so relaxing).

In my heart of hearts, I know this longish, blondish thing is a stop-gap measure only. I have a dream hairstyle. I keep telling myself I can only have it when I lose five kilograms/turn forty/publish a book. It’s a style with gravitas, that says “you are a grown-up now”. It is a complete crop, in the style of Judi Dench. It would mean losing the tresses that have been with me – on and off – since childhood and the thought makes me anxious. Is my hair my security blanket? Would I feel too naked if I cropped it all off? Would I have to wash behind my ears a little more assidiously?

I remember going to a woman’s 40th birthday when I was still a student. It was a lunch for her female family members and friends. She was very slim and lovely, with a mane of dark hair. To this party, she wore an almost completely transparent white dress with nothing on underneath but a G-string. She looked stunning but also rather sad. I remember thinking, “When I’m forty, I want to have accepted the beginning of the aging process, and not be fighting it quite so nakedly.” Well, here I am brinking forty, and um, still highlighting my hair and wearing it long. It’s pretty darn girlish. It’s the hair equivalent of a see-through dress, Botox or a boob job.

I’ve had deep discussions with some girlfriends about the long hair/growing older thing and in principle I’ve agreed with them that long, grey hair can be lovely and elegant. Mine just wants to be really, really short. I just have to get up the courage to part with it.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

28 thoughts on “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

  1. I would not mind my hair turning grey when I am forty. But in all probability, at the current rate, there will be none left to turn any colour. Lucky you. My complete crop will have to be in the style of Sinead O’Connor (or more appropriately Yul Brynner or Andre Agassi).

  2. Hmmm. I’m thinking about you, and what to say to you about your hair — but I can’t stop thinking about myself. I’m 45, and people don’t believe me –, so I’m young looking, and I’m still maybe trying to look “mature.” I have mousey brown-blonde hair and I don’t know what it would look like grey. Probably pretty awful — so I get the weave, not because I think it makes me look younger, but the colors are prettier than mousey blonde. I’m also lucky to have a hair dresser that knows how to do my hair — for 10 years — (except that he has a crush on my husband!) I let him decide the length of my hair, and he usually does it chin length, based on my proportions — I’m petite and short. But I still have toddlers and diapers and lots of kid stuff going on, and I barely have time to look at myself in the mirror. Keeping my hair looking good is the one thing I do to make me look presentable. — I may not have makeup and matching socks, but my hair looks good! (It’s curly, so I never really have to comb it.) I’ve never seen you, but you don’t strike me as the white-see-through-dress thong showing through kind of woman. I don’t think that aging gracefully has anything to do with what you wear. I think it’s more “how we think.” I man said, and most men seem to agree, that sexy is not being thin or pretty — it’s in confidence. If you carry yourself confidently and believe in yourself — that’s something men — and people — generally love. It’s charisma, and it never looks old. Do the thing that makes you feel confident. And No, turning 40 is not that bad. At least you’re still here, things could be worse.

  3. Amazing how complex our feelings about hair can be.

    I had very long hair all my life until we moved to New York. It seemed like the moment to try something new, so I had my neighbor cut it quite short. I went through phases where I thought it looked like the hair of 1) an early Beatle 2) young Harry Potter 3) a complete disaster. Now I’m desperately waiting for it to grow back again. I guess I identify myself as having long hair. Plus I hate hair salons; I always feel like I stick out like a nerdy thumb among beauty queens.

    As far as color, I haven’t done anything artificial in about 10 years. One time when I cut quite a bit off, I wanted to donate the hair to make wigs (for chemotherapy patients) but because it had once been dyed they wouldn’t take it. That made me so sad!

    My mom always looked askance at older women with long hair. I never understood that myself, other than shorter hair is easier to deal with on a daily basis when you are taking care of a family.

  4. I did the Shave for a Cure a few years ago (didn’t quite have the guts to go all the way, but I went to #3), and ever since I’ve loved my hair that way. I have a grey patch at one temple (I call it my Indira Ghandi look) and I think it makes me look distinguished.

    All through my 20s I had very long hair, which, although I loved it, wasn’t as interesting.

    So my experience of short hair has been very liberating – I’d encourage you to try it!

    Shave for the Cure – don’t know how widespread it is, but here in Australia it’s a big event every year where people shave their heads to raise money for leukemia research.

  5. On three occasions I’ve had middle of my back length hair cut into a Judi Dench style crop. On each occasion the hairdresser looked at me, raised an eyebrow or two, and asked “Really?” The implication was that I don’t have the bone structure or lack of weight for such a cut. The reality is that each time the locks came off I felt like “me” again. Comfortable, relaxed, more confident (and really, really relieved to not have to spend more than five minutes doing my hair of a morning).

    For me, getting my hair cut wasn’t about ageing (at the age of twenty, how could it have been?) or being easier to deal with but being true to myself. Long hair doesn’t suit me and or my temperament. And once I accepted that, it was the easiest thing in the world to walk into a salon and tell the hairdresser to just cut it all off. Yes, all of it. No tears; no struggle just relief.

    And I feel far from being naked with my short, short hair. It’s an unusual feeling at first — the lack of weight, the whisper of a wind blowing across the nape of your neck — but you become accustomed to it very, very quickly.

  6. In September I had my hair cut off to donate to Locks of Love, which is an organization that provides wigs to children who have no hair. It had been waist length, and I habitually wore it in a queue.

    Everybody looked at my new bob and told me how wonderful it looked. I hated it, still do, and am anxiously waiting for my hair to return to braidable length. I have never totally dyed my hair, although I have had butterscotch colored highlights put in it a few times. The trouble is, the highlighting process makes the hair that suffered through it dry and frizzy and subject to breakage.

    Browny auburny mousy with grey I am, and so I shall stay, until I am all grey. I shall probably not cut my hair off again either. I have found that a braid or two braids is the easiest way to deal with hair on a daily basis.

  7. Every once in a while, I try going grey, and every time I decide – maybe when I’m older. Don’t like feeling 64 when I am 34.

  8. PS – I have long hair now, but it was a VERY short crop once and I loved it a lot, though surprisingly it was much more work than long hair. When it is that short, you have to get it cut every 4-6 weeks to keep looking good. Worth it though, it was great. I like my long hair too.

  9. How about a word from a guy? I am approaching 40 as well, and, though scoiety does not make it nearly as hard for a man to turn 40 as for a woman, I think I’m feeling some pressures. I started to grow my hair out about a year and a half ago for no apparent reason. I think now that I did it as a defense against looking too middle-aged. With my old short haircut, I looked like a banker or something (NTTAWWT). Now it’s long, and surprisingly curly, and shot through with grey, and I really like it. It’s a bit of a pain, but I don’t mess with it that much. And I definitely don’t look like a banker.

  10. I love my hairdresser and her cuts are good but as soon as I get out of the salon I’m fiddling and messing with my hair. As soon as I can I wash it and get it back to its usual floppy self.

    It’s a head full of fine flyaway mousey hair I have, and even when she does something nice it looks ridiculous with my red-rimmed eyes and dark under-eye bags under the bright salon lights. I’ve usually been up late squinting at a book and I don’t wear make-up during the day much so the result is like an Oprah make-over almost-there-wait-til-after-the-commercial-break-for-the-final-result-folks!-half-done photo. Only after the break I still look half done.


    You’re right about how people get attached to their hair (boomboom! sorry) in a certain style or length. In school I had a pal who chopped her long auburn locks off pretty radically to the kind of Judi Dench type thing you mentioned, only she was 16 and she just looked like a beautiful little pixie. It highlighted her gorgeous cheekbones and eyes and everybody was wowed by it. She immediately started growing it out because it was just too much of a departure for her and she never got used to her reflection without all the hair.

  11. Woo! I had a very very short crop once…it was so liberating, and I know now that “I can do it,” (I _CAN_ cut off all my hair).

    I wish you a good road to that possible outcome and a great hairstylist to pull it off for you! And if you never do it, I hope you have a delicious time imagining it all. 🙂

  12. Mandarine, I’m slowly starting to get a picture of you – an Andre Agassi kind of look but with a “K”.

    Susie, I’m embracing the 40 concept, but I’m having a little more trouble with the grey concept. I’ve had a very happy day being blonde again!

    Henitserk, that’s hilarious. I would hate to have my Judi Dench crop and come out feeling like an early Beatle.

    Ms Penguin, I think I would rather Shave for a Cure, than Crop for Vanity. It would then be less about me and rather about something bigger and more valuable.

    Ms HMM, I also experimented with a bob once and hated it. I think it’s either going to be long or right off!

    Megan, it’s good to hear it’s possible to like it both long and short, though that frequent hair salon visit is cautionary to me.

    BikeProf, funnily enough, my dear husband went through the same thing. He went from looking like a banker, to looking like Michael Hutchence, to looking like a gangster. He recently returned to looking like a banker and TINWWI! Luckily for him, he has no grey at all.

    Ms PCB, you’re lucky to have a good hairdresser. I’m still not sure I’ve found someone I could trust.

    JadePark, you’ve hit the nail on the head – the imagining is half the fun!

  13. For the first time in my life I have been happy with my hair for over two weeks – finally spent the money, returned to the blonde as well (the older I get, the darker my natural color turns) and got a wonderful cut – and it is long and blonde and fun. I’ve cut my hair short on occasion and while it is easier to deal with, I certainly feel more “me” with lots of long, curly, blonde hair. All this is to say – I think you need to not worry about how aging interacts with your hair, and do your hair in a way that feels most authentically you, and screw all the other hairstyles, and reasons for them!

  14. I refused to cut my hair when my son was born, despite my mother-in-law going on and on about it. I’m starting to get grey hairs now, and I have a horror of the long, curly grey hair thing, so dyeing will have to be undertaken at some point. There’s nothing like a foreign country to provide you with an identity-destroying haircut, so I do understand your dilemma (although it seems sorted now!).

  15. WHY! is everyone so freaked out about some grey hair? I get so tired of the repetitious refrain “I don’t want to look old.” When I hear that, I hear “I don’t want to look like who I really am.”

    Have we really become so indoctrinated by the messages inundating us from every side perpetrated by the cosmetics industry? What is so horrible about actually looking like the wise woman we have become through our experiences, our traumas, our joys, our loves, our peeves, our education? Why are we, the older, the wise, the crones, still allowing us to be brainwashed into joining the cult of Youth Worship?

    And what is so great about being young? Insecurity, ignorance, puberty, pimples, not knowing who we were, hoping for a date, terrified when we HAD a date; all the ills and horrors that accompanied those perky little breasts and bright eyes.

    I am rather impatient with the person who wails, “Oh, another birthday. Boo hoo, boo hoo, now I am (enter number here).” My reply is a uniform, “Consider the alternative, dear. You have two choices. Get older or die.”

    I love my grey hairs. I earned every single one, and every wrinkle. I glory in them. I enjoy NOT enriching L’Oreal and Clairol and their ilk.

  16. Truly, a good hairdresser has a price beyond Rubies. And, as an ex of mine was fond of reminding me, Ruby is a very expensive girl.

    Me, I’ve been dyeing on and off for *thinks* *counts on fingers* um… a decade or so. At first it was just random acts of expensive blondeness, but I’m not a blonde. Now it is bought in the supermarket and hides what the advertisements so coyly call “early greys”.

    Every now and again I manage to find a hair colour which actually is my natural colour, and great joy is heard in the land, until the manufacturer goes out of business or I decide not to bother and forget which number it was.

    The first time I found a grey hair would have been aout 15 or so years ago and I had just the five of them for about 10 years. But grey doesn’t look good in longish darkish hair, so I shall continue to dye.

    Cuts though. I have finally>/i> found someone here who can cut my hair so all I need to do is wash it and put it up or leave it down as the mood takes me. You’ve seen my picture. (It’s next to my blog). Most hair dressers cannot cut hair that curls one day and is straight the next. Bizzarely appropriate some would say.

    I’m glad you’ve found one who suits you, Charlotte.


  17. Interesting point, HMH, and one I agree with. In theory at least.

    I’m wary of ageism. I worked independently in an industry used to youth. I am older (and wiser) than many of my peers, but I am aware that they may well just see the age and not the wisdom.

    I genuinely think that there is a tipping point at which dark hair going grey looks good and that mine has not reached it yet.

    Some women go completely grey very young, and they look fabulous. One of them told me someone once asked her what colour she’d got in her hair. She said “it’s white” and someone else in the same supermarket queue hissed “yours may be white, but mine’s arctic blonde”.

    I don’t mind my wrinkles. I don’t even mind my bulges. But just at the moment I’ll carry on dyeing my hair.


  18. Y’know, some people are comfortable dying their hair and some aren’t. My mother’s definitely in the ‘long’ and ‘dyed’ camp. Me, I had hair down to the small of my back. Then one day, I looked in the mirror, looked at the pony tail and widows peak and two words scorched across my brain like fire – “Status. Quo.” Or more particularly “Francis Rossi.”
    The hair came off ten minutes later. Most liberating feeling I’ve ever had in my life. Samson really sold himself a pup. Now, it’s a number one cut all over every month or two.

  19. I loved this post but I can’t think what I want to say in response to it. Other than that hair seems so inextricably bound up in who we are, and that 40 isn’t too old for long blonde hair! Mine is bobbed and highlighted (I’m 31) but the real colour is dishwater, so no way would I return to that. I think the thing to do is to look at your skin: as we age our skin tones change, and so too strong highlights (or the reverse: too dark dye) can overpower the cooler skin tones. A woman I work with is 45 and thinks anyone over 30 who dyes her hair is mutton dressed as lamb. I think we have to give in to what we feel with our hair because, let’s face it, a Bad Hair Day is a bad day full stop…

  20. I simply loved reading this and all the comments so far! So here is my take… your hair do / colour / style is a very personal thing and yet it is a very visible extension of who you are or how we perceive ourselves at that moment in time… and I MEAN AT THAT MOMENT! We all change with the days, seasons and years but personally if I am having a really crap time… the one thing that does make me feel good is a visit to the salon to have my hair cut, coloured and a good read through all the trashy magazines. Plus my salon makes a REALLY good cappuccino and on the days that I have been really down they make an even better g+t. I have gone from really long and curly to ultra short and funky and now I am at that inbetween stage again… gggrrrr… 🙂 I just felt like a change for no other reason and as such I think that I may just go and get those streaks put in. It is something that we can change so easily and why the hell not… it is a great time out, you feel pampered and special and most times you come out looking great with that little bounce in ones step (ever noticed how ones hair really feels young and bouncy when walking away from a new hair do? Just wish the bounce would come back to some other parts 🙂 ) Yes and we are all going to go grey / mousey blonde / drab and I don’t think it is about kicking ones heels in and trying to fight off nature or being forced to accept it and not lining the pockets of large multinationals… its just because… you want to and it feels good… oooh… I notice another grey hair… where are my tweezers? At least for now I can still get rid of them one at a time !

  21. I now have long hair, but for several years I had a very short crop and I’ve also had the mid-length bob.

    All I can say is 1) shorter hair is easier but definitely costs more in hairdressers bills as it needs cutting constantly 2) men prefer longer hair on women. Don’t really know why, but they do (at least in my experience) and 3) the mid-length is the worst of both worlds. Don’t go there.

  22. Hair is a complex thing for women. Definitely, part of our identity. Mine is long, and I know it needs a cut, but I can’t find a hair dresser I like either. So, about once every year and a half or two years, I try someplace new. I always end up looking okay, but not the spectacular goddess I had imagined 🙂 So, I grow it out again, and repeat the entire process a year and a half later. And so is the saga of my hair.

  23. Kerryn, I love that your short hair just feels like you, despite what the hairdressers say. Good for you for going for it, despite the raised eyebrows.

    Courtney, glad to hear you’ve got hair happiness too. I like your attitude.

    Ms HMH, you’ve got a point there: let’s embrace what makes us older and wiser and not try to look like who we aren’t. There IS a part of me that’s proud of my grey. I just think it’s time to lose the girlish locks.

    Aphra, I also rather like my wrinkles and the baggy bits. I’m proud of a body that produced three kids even if it’s left me with a belly.

    (Un)relaxeddad, I imagine that “Status Quo” moment was not a good one. Or it was a good one because it propelled you towards your number one cut. We have a friend in his forties whose hair is longer than mine. He’s quite short and impish and on hot days when he plaits his hair into two braids, he looks just Asterix. Doesn’t seem to bother him.

    Tanya, great attitude! I like that hair is part of instant gratification – what I want right now! One day I will find a salon that does for me what yours does for you. And have I ever mentioned that the cut I want it YOUR ONE. I love your hair-style and I remember being so envious the day you CUT IT ALL OFF! Brave you.

    Truce, men or no men, I think you’re right. I once had a bob and it was not a happy thing. For me, it’s either going to be forever long or the Tanya cut.

    Shanna, your saga is my saga. Do you have the “let’s cut it all off” fantasies too?

  24. I think long hair is still cool after forty, any colour you like. I’m a long hair person now that I’m grown up, having spent my youth with a series of unsatisfying short styles and it’s much less hassle having long, except for swimming. I only found a hairdresser I was happy with the year before we left London…then we left, so now it gets cut every two years, a lot, then grows some more. Luckily grey is only a few hairs so far, I don’t know whether I’ll be tempted to dye them when they start to belie my youthful look…!

  25. 23 years ago, when my mother turned 40, I remember my great aunt–a true lady in the best, old-fashioned sense of the word–told her it was time to stop wearing her hair down. I was 10, and remember how upset my mother was. (Granted, her hair was knee-length, and thus perhaps a TAD excessive.) But I think that thinking is outmoded. We all look a heck of a lot better for our ages than our great-grandparents did. Ultimately, it’s up to what makes you feel good about being you … hair dye, no hair dye, long hair, short hair.

    As for the woman wearing the see-through dress: that just sounds tacky, no matter what her age.

  26. What an interesting post & comments. I’m in my late 40’s and I’ve dyed my hair every color including blue & red (like a stop light red; I was very young) and most ‘natural’ colors except for blond. I stick to the more conventional colors & highlighting now, but I have no qualms about admitting that if it weren’t dyed, it be very grey. I stopped coloring it a few years ago; I thought it might be a really sophisticated white, or maybe a cool ‘salt and pepper’. It was mousey, boring grey and had that brittle, thin look some grey hair has. It was only a few months before I went screaming to the hairdresser for help. I love the way it looks now, even if it doesn’t disguise much my age; my hands and neck scream “almost 50!”, so forget about the hair.

    Say what you want about aging and accepting one’s age, but grey hair on women is considered old in our society and if you’re in the workplace, being grey before your mid-50’s can be a kiss of death in hiring and promotions at some places. Should it be? Well, of course not! But that’s the way it is. I know men in my profession who die their grey hair too for just this reason.

  27. Charlotte:
    Having met you in person, I think you would look fab with what I refer to as the Hallie Berry haircut. In all honestly, I really want that cut also.

  28. Pingback: Missives from my Mid-Life Crisis « Charlotte’s Web

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